Gravel pit proposal near eagle areas reintroduced

A 2006 Rifle-area gravel pit proposal near a bald eagle nesting area has been revived in a
downsized form.

The proposal never made it past the county’s planning commission the first time around, and county planning staff had recommended it be turned down because of potential effects on the eagles, visual impacts and floodplain concerns.

The new plan would eliminate one of three proposed mining areas, avoiding disturbance of wetlands in an “oxbow” area on the site, which is on the southern border of the Colorado River just east of Rifle.

The project applicant is River’s Edge LLC. The operator is United Companies of Mesa County, which had been processing gravel from a nearby pit whose resources have been exhausted.

Bald eagles have made a comeback in Garfield County, as in other places in the country, resulting in them being removed from the federal endangered species list in 2007.

In 2003, eagle pairs began rearing young at the Aspen Glen golf course development near Carbondale and along the Colorado River east of Rifle. Previously, eaglets hadn’t been born in the county since 1973, and the last time before then was 1954.

The golf course’s development agreement requires closure of the 10th hole during breeding season if a mating pair of bald eagles is nearby.

Statewide, state and federal wildlife officials recommend prohibiting possibly disturbing activities within a quarter-mile of bald eagle nests, and that activities elsewhere within a half-mile be restricted to seasons when the eagles are gone.

The gravel pit developers say the nearby nest partly blew down last year. They propose that if the eagle pair rebuilds, no activity within a quarter-mile of the nest take place during nesting season, but activity elsewhere within a half-mile be allowed to occur year-round.

In a letter last year, a Colorado Division of Wildlife representative said the new pit proposal is an improvement, providing preservation of good wildlife habitat. It also said the eagle pair is highly tolerant of disturbing activities, including an area gravel pit operation that already existed when the birds first built their nest.

But while the DOW thinks the area probably could be mined according to the proposal without the eagles leaving, the agency says the risk that they would be driven away remains and so it can’t recommend approving the project.

The gravel pit is the second to come forward for consideration under new Garfield County rules approved in response to increasing levels of gravel pit activity. Another pit is proposed south of Parachute.


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